Thursday, June 27, 2013

Man of Steel

I can't believe how many people died in this movie.

Tens of thousands at least. Probably hundreds of thousands. Entire skyscrapers are brought to the ground over and over. And over. And over.

Is this 9/11 symbolism? I don't know. That was a long time ago now -- hard as that is to believe -- and nothing in Man of Steel resonates with that terrorist attack.

So we're just left with all those casualties.

Man of Steel, of course, is the Superman reboot. But in this incarnation of the character, unlike any I've ever seen, Superman does not save people. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a single innocent saved in the film's two hour and twenty-four minute running time, except for a family of four Superman rescues at the climax by snapping the neck of his antagonist, General Zod.

I gotta tell ya, I don't really recognize this character. And I certainly don't like him.

Here's the plot:

Wait a second, you already know the plot. It's essentially the same as 1980's Superman II. That's the one where three Kryptonians who had been imprisoned years earlier by Superman's father show up looking for a little payback.

Superman II is notable for the first truly great super-hero smackdown, where all of Superman's powers are required just to hold his enemies to a draw. The fight ends, insightfully, when General Zod realizes Superman is going out of his way to protect the local citizenry from the fight's fallout. He shrewdly starts menacing said populace, which causes Superman to flee out of regard for their lives.

Zod yells "coward!" at the departing Superman. Doesn't change anything.

Because Superman, as he has always been conceived, isn't consumed with ego. He's not insecure, he's not petty, and he's not angry. He's above such things, because he's Superman.

All he does is look out for people.

Enter Man of Steel, where the three malevolent Kryptonians -- a perfect number; enough to make Superman an underdog, but not so many we can't separate their personalities -- are replaced by a whole shipful of malevolent Kryptonians. They are led by Michael Shannon's sneering Zod, who plays the villain like a rabid canine, possibly the least interesting acting choice he could make.


Zod has come to retrieve a genetic codex from Superman's DNA in order to recreate Kryptonian civilization right here on Earth. This is illogical, since Zod has an interstellar spaceship and could recreate Krypton on any number of other worlds, none of which would involve having to duke it out with Superman, but like I said, this Zod is a dumb animal, so he picks a fight.

And what a fight it is.

It rages all over Manhattan, toppling dozens of buildings, killing countless innocents, and not once do we ever get a shot of Superman wincing at the carnage. Instead he just hurls himself at Zod once again, pointlessly, toppling another building in the process.

The scene where he snaps Zod's neck is meant to be a powerful moment illustrating Superman's concession to necessity, but why the heck do we care about Superman's conscience at that point? The poor guy had to kill one rampaging madman. Big deal. A tenth of the city of New York just got crushed under ferrocrete.

In keeping with the bloody nature of this story, there's hardly any humor to be found. I only counted two jokes, one of which had a female soldier acting unprofessionally because Superman is so attractive, and another which constituted the last line of the movie, where Lois Lane puns, "Welcome to the Planet."

Two jokes. That gets you to the thirty second mark in The Avengers or Iron Man.

Even Nolan's dark, haunted Batman Begins was full of wit and humor -- everything Michael Caine's Alfred said was funny; almost everything Morgan Freeman said was funny -- and its sequel, The Dark Knight, had a mesmerizingly goofy performance from Heath Ledger. The third movie veered into glum heaviness, and that's what we see in Man of Steel.

And if that's what we can expect from Man of Steel sequels and an eventual Justice League, then I'm not interested.

A good superhero story has to be half-comedy. That's the alchemy that makes the genre work.

Oh, and you might want to throw in a conscience for your "hero."

SCORE

How Accomplished: 28/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 25/100

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